Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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Is Intelligence Innate and Fixed?

iq test, intelligenceGiv­en the recent James Wat­son “race and IQ” con­tro­ver­sy, I took on to read Stephan Jay Gould’s clas­sic book The Mis­mea­sure of Man, in which he debunks IQ (and the under­ly­ing “g”) as mea­sure of defined, innate, “intel­li­gence”. Fas­ci­nat­ing read­ing overall, very tech­ni­cal in some areas.

The key take-away? In the last chap­ter, A Pos­i­tive Con­clu­sion, he writes that

- “Flex­i­bil­i­ty is the hall­mark of human evolution…In oth­er mam­mals, explo­ration, play and flex­i­bil­i­ty of behav­ior are qual­i­ties of juve­niles, only rarely of adults. We retain not only the anatom­i­cal stamp stamp of child­hood, but its men­tal flex­i­bil­i­ty as well…Humans are learn­ing ani­mals”

He then relates this sto­ry from T.H. White’s nov­el The Once and Future King

- God, he recounts, cre­at­ed all ani­mals as embryos and called each before his throne, offer­ing them what­ev­er addi­tions to their anato­my they desired. All opt­ed for spe­cial­ized adult fea­tures-the lion for claws and sharp teeth, the deer for antlers and hoofs. The human embryo stepped forth last and said: Please God, I think that you made me in the shape which I now have for rea­sons best known to Your­selves and that it would be rude to change. If I am to have my choice, I will stay as I am. I will not alter any of the parts which you gave me…I will stay a defence­less embryo all my life, doing my best to make myself a few fee­ble imple­ments out of the wood, iron, and the oth­er mate­ri­als which You have seen fit to put before me..” “Well done”, exclaimed the Cre­ator in delight­ed tone. “Here all you embryos, come here with Read the rest of this entry »

11 Neuroscientists Debunk a Common Myth about Brain Training

Last Mon­day, NPR (very good US-based radio sta­tion) had a pro­gram on “do brain train­ing pro­grams work?” that reflect­ed very old-fash­ioned think­ing. In short, the guest speak­ers talked and talked about the impor­tance of nutri­tion and phys­i­cal exer­cise (both very impor­tant, as we have cov­ered in this blog mul­ti­ple times), and expressed skep­ti­cism about the con­cept of exer­cis­ing our brains to improve atten­tion, mem­o­ry and oth­er skills…I guess it takes a while to change old men­tal par­a­digms (And yes, some pro­grams work bet­ter than oth­ers).

Neu­ro­sci­en­tists have final­ly debunked that old think­ing that our brains decline inex­orably after a cer­tain age with lit­tle each of us can do to “exer­cise” or “train our brains”. But don’t trust me. Dur­ing the last year I have had the for­tune to inter­view 11 cut­ting-edge neu­ro­sci­en­tists and cog­ni­tive psy­chol­o­gists on their research and thoughts. Here are some of my favorite quotes (you can read the full inter­view notes by click­ing the links):

Judith Beck “Today, thanks to fMRI and oth­er neu­roimag­ing tech­niques, we are start­ing to under­stand the impact our actions can have on spe­cif­ic parts of the brain.”- Dr. Judith S. Beck, Direc­tor of the Beck Insti­tute for Cog­ni­tive Ther­a­py and Research, and author of The Beck Diet Solu­tion: Train Your Brain to Think Like a Thin Per­son. Full Inter­view Notes.

James ZullLearn­ing is phys­i­cal. Learn­ing means the mod­i­fi­ca­tion, growth, and prun­ing of our neu­rons, con­nec­tions called synaps­es and neu­ronal net­works, through experience…When we do so, we are cul­ti­vat­ing our own neu­ronal net­works. We become our own gar­den­ers — Dr. James Zull, Pro­fes­sor of Biol­o­gy and Bio­chem­istry at Case West­ern Uni­ver­si­ty. Full Inter­view Notes.

Dr. Elkhonon GoldbergExer­cis­ing our brains sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly is as impor­tant as exer­cis­ing our bod­ies. In my expe­ri­ence, “Use it or lose it” should real­ly be “Use it and get more of it”.- Dr. Elkhonon Gold­berg, neu­ropsy­chol­o­gist, clin­i­cal pro­fes­sor of neu­rol­o­gy at New York Uni­ver­si­ty School of Med­i­cine, and dis­ci­ple of the great neu­ropsy­chol­o­gist Alexan­der Luria. Full Inter­view Notes.

Picture of Daniel Gopher What research has shown is that cog­ni­tion, or what we call think­ing and per­for­mance, is real­ly a set of skills that we can train sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly. And that com­put­er-based cog­ni­tive train­ers or“cognitive sim­u­la­tions are the most effec­tive and effi­cient way to do so. — Dr. Daniel Gopher, Direc­tor of the Research Cen­ter for Work Safe­ty and Human Engi­neer­ing at Tech­nion Insti­tute of Sci­ence. Full Inter­view Notes.

Yaakov SternIndi­vid­u­als who lead men­tal­ly stim­u­lat­ing lives, through edu­ca­tion, occu­pa­tion and leisure activ­i­ties, have reduced risk of devel­op­ing Alzheimer’s symp­toms. Stud­ies sug­gest that they have 35–40% less risk of man­i­fest­ing the dis­ease- Dr. Yaakov Stern, Divi­sion Leader of the Cog­ni­tive Neu­ro­science Divi­sion of the Sergievsky Cen­ter at the Col­lege of Physi­cians and Sur­geons of Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty, New York. Full Inter­view Notes.

Go HiranoIt is hard­ly deni­able that brains enchant Japan­ese peo­ple. We love brain train­ing. Dentsu, the biggest adver­tis­ing agency, announced the No.1 Con­sumer-cho­sen 2006 Prod­uct was game soft­ware and books for brain train­ing.”- Go Hira­no, Japan­ese exec­u­tive, founder of NeuWell. Full Inter­view Notes.

Picture of Brett Steenbarger Elite per­form­ers are dis­tin­guished by the struc­tur­ing of their learn­ing process. It is impor­tant to under­stand the role of emo­tions: they are not “bad”. They are very use­ful sig­nals. It is impor­tant to become aware of them to avoid being engulfed by them, and learn how to man­age them. — Dr. Brett Steen­barg­er, Asso­ciate Pro­fes­sor of Psy­chi­a­try and Behav­ioral Sci­ences, SUNY Med­ical Uni­ver­si­ty, and author of Enhanc­ing Trad­er Per­for­mance. Full Inter­view Notes.

torkel_s.jpgWe have shown that work­ing mem­o­ry can be improved by train­ing…I think that we are see­ing the begin­ning of a new era of com­put­er­ized train­ing for a wide range of appli­ca­tions.  Dr. Torkel Kling­berg, Direc­tor of the Devel­op­men­tal Cog­ni­tive Neu­ro­science Lab at Karolin­s­ka Insti­tute. Full Inter­view Notes.

Bradley S. Gibson, Ph.D.Train­ing is very impor­tant: atten­tion­al con­trol is one of the last cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties to devel­op in nor­mal brain development…I can eas­i­ly see the rel­e­vance in 2 fields. One, pro­fes­sion­al sports. Two, mil­i­tary train­ing.  Pro­fes­sor Bradley Gib­son is the Direc­tor of the Per­cep­tion and Atten­tion Lab at Uni­ver­si­ty of Notre Dame. Full Inter­view Notes.

Arthur LavinI don’t see that schools are apply­ing the best knowl­edge of how minds work. Schools should be the best place for applied neu­ro­science, tak­ing the lat­est advances in cog­ni­tive research and apply­ing it to the job of edu­cat­ing minds. — Dr. Arthur Lavin, Asso­ciate Clin­i­cal Pro­fes­sor of Pedi­atrics at Case West­ern School of Med­i­cine, pedi­a­tri­cian in pri­vate prac­tice. Full Inter­view Notes.

David RabinerCog­ni­tive train­ing rests on sol­id premis­es, and some pro­grams already have very promis­ing research results. Some of the most are promis­ing areas are: neu­ro­feed­back, which as a whole is start­ing to present good research results, and work­ing mem­o­ry train­ing. — Pro­fes­sor David Rabin­er, Senior Research Sci­en­tist and the Direc­tor of Psy­chol­o­gy and Neu­ro­science Under­grad­u­ate Stud­ies at Duke Uni­ver­si­ty: Full Inter­view Notes.

There is much we can do every­day to lit­er­al­ly exer­cise our brains. No mat­ter our age. So much to Learn…so Good to Learn! Let’s see when this sto­ry makes it into NPR.

Neuroplasticity = Lifelong Learning

I have just read the best blog post I have read in a loooong while, so let me share it here now. Brett Steen­barg­er is a Pro­fes­sor of Psy­chi­a­try & Behav­ioral Sci­ences and a Trad­ing Psy­chol­o­gy expert who I had the plea­sure to inter­view a while back. He is a mas­ter at trad­ing, learn­ing, teach­ing and coach­ing.

And has writ­ten this superb post: When Traders Lose Con­fi­dence — Part Three: Struc­tur­ing Your Expe­ri­ence. We talk in this blog a lot about neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty and cog­ni­tive and emo­tion­al train­ing, but what Brett out­lines is, in sum­ma­ry, a very healthy atti­tude to life, life­long brain plas­tic­i­ty, brain health, and suc­cess. Not bad!

See below a few of his quotes-but please read the full arti­cle here:

  • What we call the “self”–how we expe­ri­ence ourselves–is the result of all that we inter­nal­ize from peo­ple and events.
  • Because we are always hav­ing new experiences–and can inter­nal­ize these–we are always, to some degree, remak­ing who we are.
  • Every activ­i­ty we engage in pro­vides us with feed­back about our­selves: our abil­i­ties, how we’re per­ceived by oth­ers, our char­ac­ter. In select­ing what we do, who we do it with, and how we do it, we can struc­ture our expe­ri­ence to cre­ate mir­rors of suc­cess and mas­tery.
  • Expe­ri­ence is our psy­cho­log­i­cal food; it’s vital that we feed our­selves well. But what does it mean to struc­ture our expe­ri­ence and feed our­selves well psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly?
  • The rea­son I’m effec­tive as a psy­chol­o­gist, I believe, is not because I’m all that more edu­cat­ed than oth­ers or uti­lize such bet­ter tech­niques. Rather, I have an uncan­ny abil­i­ty to see the best in peo­ple; to push aside the prob­lems of the moment and see through to qual­i­ties of great­ness that are present with­in most of us, how­ev­er fleet­ing­ly. It’s because I see the best in peo­ple that I can be a good mirror–and help oth­ers see in them­selves what they oth­er­wise can­not appre­ci­ate on their own Con­fi­dence comes from the right kind of mirroring–and we can choose our mir­rors.

Please enjoy When Traders Lose Con­fi­dence — Part Three: Struc­tur­ing Your Expe­ri­ence.

Trading performance psychology and self-talk

Giv­en the stock mar­ket per­for­mance these days, Brett Steen­barg­er offers time­ly tips and resources for traders on man­ag­ing stress and self-con­fi­dence: Updat­ed Psy­chol­o­gy of Trad­ing Resources, includ­ing a list of rel­e­vant blogs such as Afraid to Trade blog, Trad­er Psy­chol­o­gy blog, the Head Coach blog, his Stock Mar­ket Psy­chol­o­gy blog and Smart Trad­er blog.

He also offers very good advice to build self-con­fi­dence, which can be use­ful to us all, no mat­ter our pro­fes­sion: When Traders Lose Con­fi­dence — Part Two: Chang­ing Your Self-Talk .

  • The key to chang­ing the self-talk is to become aware of when you’re doing it. Most often, the neg­a­tive talk is auto­mat­ic. Jour­nals are effec­tive because they force us to reflect on our think­ing and inter­rupt those auto­mat­ic pat­terns. Sim­i­lar­ly, I’ve had great results work­ing with traders who talk their thoughts out loud into a tape recorder and then play them back. It’s an excel­lent way to become aware of your think­ing, stand apart from it, and break the flow.”
  • Yet anoth­er strat­e­gy is to go through guid­ed visu­al­iza­tions of chal­leng­ing mar­ket sce­nar­ios while you’re calm and focused (before trad­ing starts) and then men­tal­ly rehearse the self-talk you’d like to engage in dur­ing those sit­u­a­tions. This helps to build new, pos­i­tive pat­terns of self-talk.
  • The key to all these strate­gies is rep­e­ti­tion: you’re train­ing your­self to process infor­ma­tion in new ways, and such train­ing requires prac­tice.”

You may enjoy our inter­view with Brett N. Steen­barg­er on Enhanc­ing Trad­er Per­for­mance. And learn more on oth­er tech­niques at Best prac­tice for top trad­ing per­for­mance: biofeed­back and solu­tions for Traders.

Brain Health and Fitness Workshops

Today I have an announce­ment to make. You prob­a­bly are seeing all the arti­cles about Brain Fit­ness in the press and wondering, “What is this all about?”, “Can some­one help me nav­i­gate through all the pro­grams out there?”, “How is Brain Fit­ness rel­e­vant to me in my per­son­al life or at work?”. Well…we are deliv­er­ing a series of work­shops to com­pa­nies and orga­ni­za­tions com­bin­ing mod­ules -includ­ing sci­en­tif­ic overview, the indus­try trends and key play­ers, fun team-build­ing exer­cis­es- that can be tai­lored to each organization’s spe­cif­ic needs. Ses­sions last from 1 to 6 hours, depend­ing on the group’s com­po­si­tion and agen­da and are deliv­ered either in per­son or via web con­fer­ence.

We want to be able to reach more orga­ni­za­tions, so please let us know of any ideas!

Some recent examples

1. Man­ag­ing Stress for Peak Per­for­mance (we men­tioned some notes on an Accen­ture ses­sion)

New and chal­leng­ing sit­u­a­tions – such as tak­ing on new respon­si­bil­i­ties– can trig­ger reac­tions in our brain and body that lim­it or even block our deci­sion-mak­ing abil­i­ties. These reac­tions may also harm our long-term brain pow­er and health. Although we can­not avoid change and stress­ful sit­u­a­tions, we can learn how to man­age our stress lev­els to ensure peak per­for­mance-even in tough moments. The lat­est neu­ro­science research proves that stress man­age­ment is a train­able “men­tal mus­cle.” This is true for any high pres­sure pro­fes­sion, be it trad­ing, sports, or sim­ply mod­ern life.

2. The Sci­ence of Brain Health and Brain Fit­ness (sim­i­lar to what I will teach at UC Berke­ley OLLI)

Neu­ro­sci­en­tists have shown how the human brain retains neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty (the abil­i­ty to rewire itself) and neu­ro­ge­n­e­sis (the cre­ation of new neu­rons) dur­ing its full life­time, lead­ing to a new under­stand­ing of Read the rest of this entry »

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